I went to a good friend’s wedding last Sunday. Besides the fact that I fell ass over teakettle down a staircase (with a dress on … and yes, it flew up), I had a great time. I teared up at the ceremony (as I always do at weddings, graduations, and any event with any prospect of sentimentality), and when my friend came back to work mid-week, the ring on his finger was almost like a beacon.
I wore a wedding ring for seven years, and I took the vows that I made in its name very seriously. The fact that the little circle of gold is now in a plastic baggie at the bottom of my purse because I don’t know what the hell else to do with it holds a certain irony, I suppose.
Anyway, I’d never really thought a lot about the history of the wedding ring, but it turns out that it’s actually incredibly interesting—and kind of scary, too, when you consider that guys like Samuel Johnson referred to it as “a circular instrument placed upon the noses of hogs and the fingers of women to restrain them and bring them into subjection.”
The predecessors to the wedding ring had their roots in Egyptian culture, where it served as a symbol of a man’s belief in his wife’s ability to “care for his house” (big of him) and with the Greeks and Romans, where the ring was given not to a woman but to her father (and I’m sorry about beating the Ladies Against Feminism dead horse once again, but come on …)
In the second century B. C., the Roman bride was presented with a gold ring. But this she wore only in public. Such a ring was much too precious to wear while tending to household duties; and so the groom gave the bride a second ring – for use in the home – which was usually made of iron and had little knobs in the form of a key. Of course, these “key” rings were weak and could open only those locks requiring very little force to turn, but their significance, in that the wearer had the right to seal up the giver’s possessions, was strong.
So there was the status ring and the trust ring—interesting that …
… the one with more significant symbolism, that of holding the key to a guy’s stuff, was made of iron instead of the more “precious” gold.
Another kind of cool thing is that Christians didn’t have ring components to their marriage ceremonies until 860, and the “Heathenish” nature of those rings, typically engraved with animals or musical instruments, was actually frowned upon by the church.
This changed in the 13th century, when Bishop Durant coined the “symbol of the union of hearts” thing with the mindset causing some problems for the poor, where poverty-stricken Englishmen and Irishmen actually had to rent rings for the big day.
There are some notorious historical wedding ring stories, too. Cool stuff.
The smallest wedding ring was created specially for a two-year-old.
Probably the smallest wedding ring of which we have record was that given the daughter of Henry VIII, Princess Mary, by the proxy of the Dauphin of France, son of King Francis I. The ring was tiny of necessity – not because of the daintiness of the Princess’ hand, but because she was but two years old. It was essential that the Dauphin have a proxy – he had been born but seven months before the bridal ceremonies were celebrated. Thus, amid great pomp and splendor, the Lilliputian golden ring, fitted with a costly diamond, was slipped unto the baby bride’s finger.
And remember Martin Luther, whose wife was featured prominently in the historical paper doll thing?
Another historic ring was that supposedly given to Martin Luther by his wife in commemoration of their marriage. After being severely censored by the Roman Catholics for committing himself to this marriage, Luther is said to have remarked that he married “to please himself, to tease the Pope and to spite the Devil.” The ring, set with a ruby, bears the image of the crucifixion.
And why the third finger of the left hand, of all places? Apparently, a Greek fable claiming that the blood flows directly from that location to the heart is to blame for this one, a myth that has since been disapproved by science.
You’ll love the other theories, too.
It was said that this particular combination was most suitable for finery, as the left hand was used less than the right and the third finger would better protect the ring from injuries, inasmuch as it could not be “extended but in company with some other finger.”
Wow, was nobody left-handed back then? I mean, there are left-handed scissors and notebooks and everything under the sun now … I’m kind of surprised that no southpaw has raised too much of a stink over this.
Still another explanation centers about the idea of the left hand denoting subjection of wife to husband. In the Christian Church service, the priest touched three consecutive fingers, saying, “In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” and placed the ring on the last finger touched.
Well, it would give some credence to weddings as a religious event, anyway …
* The ratio between index and ring finger is believed to be linked to exposure to the male hormone testosterone in the womb. On average, men tend to have longer ring fingers and women longer index fingers. The higher the testosterone, the greater the length of the ring finger and the more “masculine” the resulting child – whether male or female. The longest ring finger is known as the “Casanova pattern”.
* In a study of stock traders, Cambridge University researchers found that the most successful had a relatively long ring finger. According to these experts, the finger-length ratio was boosted by higher levels of testosterone in the womb during a crucial phase of gestation. Traders with long ring fingers made up to 11 times the earnings of their counterparts, the study found.
* Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found the difference in the length between women’s ring fingers and index fingers tend to be greater for lesbians than straight women. The same study also found that a greater difference in length of men’s ring fingers and index fingers for gay men with several older brothers as compared to straight men.
* Scientists at the University of Bath found that children who had longer ring fingers are better with numbers-based subjects such as maths and physics, which are traditionally male favourites.
* Canadian researchers from the University of Alberta have found a correlation between length of the ring finger and levels of physical aggression – as would be expected in the most masculinised individuals.
* It is the weakest of the fingers on the hand, as it shares a flexor muscle with the middle and little fingers. It is the only finger that cannot be fully extended by the majority of people, in itself separately.
* It is common to wear an academy signet ring on the opposite ring finger to the wedding ring finger, in western society this is the right ring finger.
I go back, though, to the unquestionable connotation between wedding rings and women as servants to the man she marries. It’s frankly a bit distasteful, in my opinion.
While I’m never planning on getting married again, I’d have to think long and hard about how I’d feel in terms of the rather oppressive history of the wedding ring if the opportunity ever again arises.